Friday, December 17, 2010

Julius Caesar: The Problem With Top Billing

The Death of Caesar at the Hands of the Senators by Vincenzo Camuccini, 1798

As Shakespeare dramatizes the over two-thousand-year-old assassination of Roman general Julius Caesar, he raises a number of timeless questions about the problematic nature of success.  Late rap music great Christopher Wallace, The Notorious B.I.G., famously hinted at the heart of the problem when he said that “The more money you make, the more problems you get.”  Whether the bar is set by money, power, position, or even virtue, the rise of any individual to some substantial level of greatness always seems to simultaneously give rise to envy, criticism, and even hatred.   Haters will want to see a great man brought down.  Unfortunately for Caesar, back in 44 BC, haters weren’t just going to hate; they were going to stab you thirty-three times in the chest.

The Notorious B.I.G.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Tempest: Adventures on a Magic Island

Miranda by John W. Waterhouse 1916

It really is as cool as it sounds.  Shakespeare’s The Tempest is like an awesome mash-up of Lost, Harry Potter, and Giligan’s Island.

What we’ve got here are five acts filled with shipwrecks, intrigue, magic, and monsters.  It really is incredibly entertaining.  The play was initially grouped with Shakespeare’s comedies, others later categorized it as a romance, but the only descriptor that really matters here is fun, because that’s exactly what The Tempest is.  It’s got everything.

The drama kicks off right away as a ship filled with important passengers (the King of Naples being one) loses its battle with a fierce storm.  However, this particular tempest is not the work of Mother Nature; it was conjured by a POWERFUL SORCERER!  Dun Dun Duuuuuunnnnnn! 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Titus (1999)

Little did I know, when I literally tried to pitch a film adaptation of Titus Andronicus to Quentin Tarantino several months ago, that critically acclaimed director Julie Taymor made her debut bringing Titus to the big screen back in 1999.  I guess that explains why Tarantino’s agent never got back to me.  Note to self: do more research before contacting Hollywood agents with your next big idea.  In fairness to Julie Taymor, I’ll say that I was dreading my viewing of Titus well before I hit play.  Shakespeare’s text is so gruesome and disturbing that I wasn’t sure I had the stomach to make it through the whole film.  But with Taymor’s Tempest on the way, I knew that I had to acknowledge this bold new voice in Shakespearean cinema.

I had braced myself for horror, but nothing could have prepared me for Titus’s opening scene.  Having expected the action to begin in ancient Rome, I was caught completely off guard when the first thing I saw was a young boy with a paper bag over his head, breaking his toys apart amid a large-scale ketchup explosion at a 1950s-era kitchen table. In fact, I was afraid I had inserted the wrong disc into my DVD player.  Though this fear turned out to be unfounded, the strange scene made for anxiety-filled viewing all the same.  Things did calm down for me moments later as a large man, dressed entirely in black, burst through the kitchen window to seemingly kidnap this child.  Normally, this would be alarming, but once you see the kind of mess the kid was making, you’ll accept the fact that he had to be stopped somehow.